Sustaining the annual MIA Trail for International Museum Day

Raffles Museum Todycats’ Pasir Panjang Heritage guides have been offering an annual repertoire of three to four public education heritage tours since 2002.

In 2006 I was pondering a request from NHB’s Corp Comms. They wanted something unusual to excite the public and media over International Museum Day (which, by the way, has pretty much become International Museum Week). So I chatted over Holland Village nasi lemak with two kakis from Museum Roundtable, Stella and Amy, who were also staff of National Heritage Board (NHB).

Influenced by the popular movie “Night at the Museum“, we settled on an evening tour of three galleries and one park, and called it The MIA trail.

The trail proved to popular probably because of the timing and varied diet of Raffles Museum’s Public Gallery, Kent Ridge Park and Reflections at Bukit Chandu. Initially we included the newly opened Memories at the Old Ford Factory but that was just too tiring for both participants and volunteer guides. We also abandoned Friday night tours as participants tend to be too tired after work.

So we decided two bus loads of participants annually on a Saturday evening would be all we could manage for the long term. As such, the small group of Pasir Pajang Heritage Guides (now just six of us) have managed to keep this up for five years and counting in addition to al our other programmes.

The MIA Night Trail-1
A dedicated webpage and domain name for registration

These days, spaces are filled up within 24 hours of advertisement. NUS staff can easily swamp the number of places offered within a day, so some years, I let the IMD advertisements do the talking first before sending out the email alert. This way the public get a chance to sign up for the tour. With NHB kindly footing the transport bill as part of International Museum Day, it’s a treat for everyone.

With Google Docs to the rescue, I manage registration single-handedly. The webpage at imd.rafflesmuseum.net and Habitatnews adverts just need a little updating each year. Even then, it still takes 12-18 hours in total to process updates, manage registration and inform participants. It would be easier if I was less responsive but I prefer to confirm tour participants quickly and efficiently. And I fight off absenteeism by reminding confirmed participants that there is an eager waiting list.

IMD Participant Status-1
Registration fills within a day of publicity

Since all of this occurs during my exam marking period, this means I can expect an overnighter or two. Finding an efficient volunteer administrator has escaped me all these years. It got to the point I was tempted to abandon all of this. I persisted in the end as the MIA Trail is an enjoyable tour, people do learn quite a bit and the veteran guides are fun and quite good.

The guides can look forward to the pre-event refresher course which doubles as a social gathering. It is a tangible reward to catch up during the refreshers, which adds to our public education goals.

It’s not all status quo as we add a little to the mix each year. So now we take out crab specimens for a closer examination while in the museum, other Toddycats are recruited to add variety as station guides in the Public Gallery and this year, I hope to have participants “listen” to bats in Kent Ridge Park.

crab demo at MIA trail
How to determine the gender of tree-climbing crabs

All I need to do now is to remind my contact in Archives to keep Reflections open on the 22nd!

MIA Trail - night view of Southern Islands from Kent Ridge
The night view of Southern Islands from Kent Ride

– N. Sivasothi a.k.a. Otterman

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